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Chinas ZTE pleads guilty, settles with U.S. over Iran sales

Chinese telecommunications equipment maker ZTE Corp (000063. SZ) has agreed to plead guilty and pay $892 million to settle with U.S. authorities over allegations it violated U.S. laws restricting the sale of American-made technology to Iran, the company said on Tuesday. ZTE will plead guilty to conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, among other charges, in the agreement with the U.S. Department of Commerce, Department of Treasury and Department of Justice. The agencies all declined comment on Tuesday. The Commerce Department investigation followed reports by Reuters in 2012 that ZTE had signed contracts to ship millions of dollars worth of hardware and software from some of the best-known U.S. technology companies to Iran's largest telecoms carrier. The original report can be read here:

"ZTE acknowledges the mistakes it made, takes responsibility for them, and remains committed to positive change in the company," ZTE Chairman and Chief Executive Zhao Xianming said on Tuesday in a statement. An agreement caps a year of uncertainty for the Shenzhen-based company, which in March 2016 was placed on a list of entities that U.S. suppliers could not work with without a license. ZTE acted contrary to U.S. national security or foreign policy interests, the Commerce Department said at the time.

Commerce will recommend that ZTE be removed from that list if the company lives up to its deal and a court approves its agreement with the Justice Department. ZTE said it has agreed to an additional penalty of $300 million to a division of the Commerce Department that will be suspended during a seven-year term on the condition that the company complies with requirements in the agreement. The Treasury Department said the settlement includes $101 million to settle potential civil liability for Iran sanction violations. The action marks the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control's largest settlement to date with a non-financial entity.

One of the world’s biggest telecommunications gear makers and the No. 4 smartphone vendor in the United States, ZTE sells handset devices to U.S. mobile carriers AT&T Inc

Debt laden Neiman Marcus says exploring options, including sale

Luxury fashion retailer Neiman Marcus Group said on Tuesday that it was exploring options, including changes to its capital structure or a sale, as it seeks relief from a swelling debt load amid renewed buyout interest from Hudson's Bay Co (HBC. TO). The announcement follows a Reuters report earlier this month that the company had turned to investment bank Lazard Ltd (LAZ. N) to explore ways to bolster its balance sheet. Neiman Marcus has total liabilities of $6.4 billion, including $1.2 billion of deferred income taxes. Hudson's Bay, owner of the Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue retail chains, is in exploratory talks to acquire Neiman Marcus, people familiar with the matter said. It last considered acquiring Neiman Marcus in 2013, sources said at the time. Hudson's Bay's interest comes as the retail sector faces headwinds that have dented the company's own sales and made it difficult to line up equity financing for a bid for department store operator Macy's Inc (M. N), sources had told Reuters. With Neiman Marcus' bonds trading at about half their par value, a sale of the company would likely require creditors accepting a steep haircut on their holdings, making an acquisition challenging to structure and pull off, especially for Hudson's Bay, which has market capitalization of C$2.1 billion ($1.6 billion) and net debt of $4.5 billion. Hudson's Bay and Neiman Marcus declined to comment. Hudson's Bay, Neiman Marcus and Macy's are under pressure to offer discounts to entice shoppers who increasingly prefer the prices and convenience of internet retailers.

Dallas-based Neiman Marcus' woes have been exacerbated as affluent Texans have cut back on shopping because of a drop in energy prices, while a stronger U.S. dollar has restrained spending at Bergdorf Goodman department store, a popular New York tourist destination that is owned by Neiman. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier on Tuesday that Hudson's Bay was seeking a deal that would give it control of Neiman without having to assume its debt. It did not provide details as to how this can be achieved without at least partially compensating creditors. Neiman Marcus also said that it made changes to its corporate structure, including naming subsidiary online store My Theresa and some of its properties in Virginia and Texas "unrestricted," meaning not subject to the same rules under credit agreements as other units of the company.

However, experts said this was aimed more at helping the company better manage its debt liabilities."They want to increase flexibility to deal with creditors," said Anthony Canale, head of high yield research at research firm Covenant Review LLC. "They want a bargaining chip." The company wrote down the value of the Neiman Marcus brand by $153.8 million, after having reduced it by $466.2 million last September. It also reported a net loss of $117 million for the 13 weeks ended Jan. 28, compared with year-earlier net earnings of $7.9 million, which it blamed in part on an inventory management system that failed to work properly, leaving it unable to fill orders. REAL ESTATE USED AS FINANCING

Unilever CEO urges UK to provide 'level playing field' after Kraft bid LONDON Fresh from defending Unilever against an unsolicited $143 billion takeover attempt by Kraft Heinz , CEO Paul Polman said the British government should ensure a level playing field for target companies.

Safran says will take account of Zodiac forecasts in takeover talks PARIS Safran reaffirmed its interest in taking over aircraft parts manufacturer Zodiac on Tuesday but said it would incorporate "the consequences" of Zodiac's new financial forecasts into the discussions.

Euronet Worldwide trumps Ant Financial's offer to buy MoneyGram U.S. electronic payments company Euronet Worldwide Inc launched a $1 billion bid for rival MoneyGram International Inc on Tuesday, arguing that its all-American deal would face less regulatory scrutiny than a lower bid by China's Ant Financial Services Group.